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Saturday, 27 April 2013

A quick point (about pedantry)

Further to my post last week about the correct grammar to use while commenting on popular music, I was emailed by one correspondent who suggested that I had spent rather too much time lurking in what he called ‘pedantry corner’.
Without wishing to appear pedantic, my understanding of 'pedantry corner' would be that it is a term designed to describe an area or, if you will, milieu, in which the general practice (and celebration) of 'pedantry' is permitted and perhaps even encouraged by those who (might choose to) linger therein.

Perhaps my correspondent would have been better advised to have used the term ‘pedant’s corner’, which I think would accurately describe a corner (or, to be more precise, a nook or cranny) to which one would occasionally retreat (or retire) in order to consult various reference books (and also magazines and websites) for the purpose of resolving (or attempting to resolve) any dispute arising from a discussion on matters pertaining (or relating) to the arts, sciences, politics and /or popular culture.

And, just to be clear, by 'discussion', I do not mean an extended interval of interlocutory jousting carried out between persons located in the same room, or persons located in different places but communicating via telephone, 'walkie-talkie' or an internet connection. I mean (or meant) a printed representation purporting to reflect (or represent) a moderated series of opinions (or postulations) on a given topic, in this case the use (and, presumably, abuse and /or misuse) of grammatically robust terminology while discussing the merits and demerits of pop groups.

I hope that clears things up.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Song of the Week: 'If she gets on my train'

A friend once told me that my lyrics tended towards the melancholic, so –just for a change- I thought I would try to write something that was a bit more upbeat.  This one tried its best, but somehow still ended up with a sting in the tail. 

The lyric tries to get inside the head of a guy who nurses a crush on a girl he sees every day when he commutes to work.  I imagined that the song would have a happy ending (with the guy asking the girl out and them both living happily ever after), but it lay about in a half-finished state for a couple of years and, by the time I got around to finishing it a couple of months ago, it had acquired something of a twist.  The protagonist is trying to imagine a situation in which he will have the courage to make an approach to the girl, but with every situation he imagines (she gets on his train, she walks down his street), the recognition comes that all he will ever do is continue to do what he has always done: nothing at all.  He knows that he will never pluck up the courage to ask the girl out and settles instead for running little fantasy numbers in his head.  Oh well ... maybe failure is just a bit more interesting than success.   
The track features a couple of splendid contributions from Fraser Sneddon on bass and Emma Jane on backing vocals.    

If she gets on my train

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The correct terminology

The other day, I was talking to someone about music and he ventured the opinion that "Mumford and Sons are a pile of shite". Leaving to one side the question of whether or not I was inclined to agree with this assessment of the musical abilities of that particular combo, I paused before making a reply. Surely, I thought, both 'Mumford and Sons' and 'pile of shite' are singular terms? Accordingly, I believe my friend should have said: 'Mumford and Sons is a pile of shite', or perhaps: 'Mumford and Sons are piles of shite'. Or, to be more accurate: 'The music made by Mumford and Sons bears some resemblance to a pile (or piles) of shite’.

But eagle-eyed readers will already have spotted the glaring weakness in my reasoning. Yes, I had assumed, a priori, that he was talking about the musical abilities of the musicians collectively known as Mumford and Sons. But what if he was referring to the physical appearance of those musicians? What if he actually thought that the members of that group in some way resembled an aggregation of feculent debris? Harsh as such an assessment might have been, it would at least have been supported by a statement that was robust in its grammar and hermeneutics. After a few awkward moments, I decided to go with my gut feeling and settled on my initial interpretation, namely that my friend was talking about the musical abilities of the aforementioned combo (this in spite of having reservations about the incongruity of his comparison between the noise made by musicians and an essentially silent pile of waste). Even so, I could not help but suspect that it would have made things far simpler had he compared the noise made by the musicians known collectively as Mumford and Sons to another noise (perhaps, for example, a drunken folk singer with toothache trapped inside a malfunctioning industrial dryer).

For the sake of brevity, I granted his erroneous comparison while politely suggesting that he might have avoided confusion by framing his opening remark thus: "Notwithstanding the apparent incongruity of the attempted equivalence, the noise made by the musicians known collectively as Mumford and Sons bears some resemblance to a significant (and perhaps stacked) accumulation of human or animal waste material".

Grammar, I mused, can be such a minefield, or rather, series of minefields.

Incidentally, on the question of what constitutes a 'pile' of 'shite', I have long advocated that an accumulation of excrement dropped in one sitting by a large animal (an elephant, for example) should have a different status and nomenclature to a random scattering of fecal matter dropped by a number of smaller animals and then gathered into a 'pile' by a zoo-keeper or park attendant. At the risk of provoking the kind of heated exchange generated by my recent post on Thatcher-hatred, I would suggest that while these two 'piles' -to the untrained eye, at least- might appear to be similar, they are, in fact, entirely unrelated entities.

For anyone interested in exploring this topic in more detail, I've posted an article over at:

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Death Party Blues

When news of Mrs Thatcher’s death was announced last Monday, I resolved to stay away from internet message boards and social networking sites for a few days. Alas, in a moment of weakness, I checked briefly into Facebook and Twitter and quickly felt the need to go and have a shower. I don’t believe in the perfectibility of humankind, so I could hardly be surprised by some of the stuff that people were willing to post on social networking sites. Nor would I make any particular objection to people behaving in the way that they do; it is perfectly within their right. I can only wonder, with a sense of incredulous curiosity, at the extent of the lack of self-awareness in the kind of person who can post a picture of themselves cavorting drunkenly in the centre of Glasgow, bottle in hand, alongside a status update reading:
The witch is dead – Rejoice, because she led the party of hate and spite’.

Much of the comment I’ve read in the last few days (both in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere) seems to fall into two camps: Mrs Thatcher was either the greatest-ever prime minister and the saviour of Britain, or she was an evil witch out to screw whole communities and destroy industries. The truth, of course, lies somewhere between these two extremes.

I was a teenager growing up in Glasgow when the Conservatives won the election in 1979. I found it hard to believe that ‘that woman’ had become our prime-minister. I continued to despise her throughout the following decade and can still recall the sickening feeling of ‘losing’ the 1987 election, her third consecutive triumph. It seemed that the country was going through a dismal, depressing period and I hated Margaret Thatcher, her party and most of the things they did. But the passing of time has allowed me to develop rather a different perspective on events. It is clear that Britain in 1979 needed a transformative government, needed a Thatcher (or someone like her) to bring about certain necessary changes, changes that would make our economy fit for purpose in an ever-more competitive world. Those changes could never have happened under Callaghan, Foot or Kinnock. The assertion that Mrs Thatcher ‘destroyed’ the old industries is conveniently simplistic, but ignores a massive elephant in the room. What she did was end the expectation that everyone else should subsidise those ailing industries. Those dockyards, car factories, steel mills and coal mines, with their ancient practices and protections, could not have continued operating in a modern economy because the conditions in which they expected to be maintained were not sustainable.

I suspect that what is fuelling today’s Thatcher-hatred is not fury at the so-called industrial carnage, not righteous indignation at the perceived class warfare and not outrage at her seeming indifference to the plight of those who were the victims of economic vicissitudes. No … what hurts the Thatcher-haters most of all is that ‘that woman’ successfully took the temperature of the electorate, time and time again. And it’s not just that she won; it’s that in her winning, she changed the rules of the game.

Accordingly, the antics of these demonstrators since Monday seems a tad pathetic, like a blind and toothless old dog barking at the distant memory of a long-dead postman. The Thatcher-hatred seems little more than an enfeebled cri de coeur, an impotent acknowledgement of the defeat of old-style leftism. Bewildered and punch-drunk from successive failures at the polls, these demonstrators still rage against their ancient adversary, desperate to blame someone for their continued failure to capture the imagination and the votes of ordinary people.

But as they enjoy their street parties and their silly campaign to push that song up the pop charts, I’d like to think that, in a contemplative pause, perhaps deep in the quiet night, there might arrive, for some, a moment of revelation, a moment when that public mask of bitterness and scorn might fall away; a moment of something approaching self-awareness.

In his poem ‘Snake’ DH Lawrence beautifully expresses the contradictory desires expressed by a man when he encounters a snake at his water trough. On the one hand, he admires and wishes to befriend the creature; on the other, he feels a compulsion to violence and eventually makes a feeble attempt to kill it. Ashamed of his mean-spiritedness, Lawrence ends the poem with a near-perfect expression of self-loathing:

And I have something to expiate;
A pettiness.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Song of the Week: 'The Abracadabra Man'

This track -taken from the first Eisenhowers album- is an acoustic meditation on the perfidy of politicians and con-men, all of those clever folk who can pull imaginary rabbits out of ragged old hats.  Does the world really need another Napoleon?  I think not.  Most politicians are snake oil salesmen (that is a theme that could be mined forever), but the idea of the ‘wrecking crew’ -the private lynch mob employed by the political shyster in this song- was designed to take it into an altogether more sinister dimension. Producer Stuart MacLeod is a big Rolling Stones fan and I think he had the track ‘Sister Morphine’ in mind when he recorded the guitar solo, but otherwise it’s pretty much just acoustic and vocals. I think the track was also nominated for the 2002 Grammys in the ‘Most creative use of a creaking studio door’ category, although I may have just made that up.         

The Abracadabra Man